How to Interpret the Essay Question
  • 3-minute read
  • 23rd November 2022

How to Interpret the Essay Question

Writing an effective essay is crucial to your success as a student. It all starts with the essay question. Before you can plan your essay, do research, or write it, you need to know what’s expected of you.

Fortunately, with a few simple steps, you can identify the main parts of an essay question, which will not only direct the approach you take but also ensure it’s the correct approach. Check out our guide below to learn more.

1. Instruction Verbs

First, essay questions will have one or more instruction verbs that tell you exactly what you must achieve in your writing.

For example, the instruction to analyze (critically examine key elements) will require a different action than the instruction to justify (present evidence to support a decision).

Let’s consider an example essay question:

Compare the population growth of California to that of New York from 2010 to 2020.

This question has only one instruction verb, compare, which tells us to describe how two or more things are alike and how they’re different.

It can help to keep the instruction words in mind throughout the entire essay writing process so that you don’t waste time researching or writing about topics that aren’t directly related.

2. Subject Words

Next, the subject words in your essay question will tell you what to research. These words can be easily identified because they must be keywords that you can search.

For example, we know that compare isn’t a subject word because typing it into a scholarly search engine won’t provide relevant results.

Here’s our essay question example again:

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Compare the population growth of California to that of New York from 2010 to 2020.

Now, if you research California’s population growth and New York’s population growth, you can collect research that will allow you to compare the two.

3. Limiting Words

Finally, the limiting words in your essay question will narrow the focus of both your research and writing. These words are also easily identified, as they indicate limitations based on any of these factors:

●  Time: A time period can cover a span of days, years, or an entire era.

●  Place: The location can be a continent (e.g., North America), a country (e.g., the United States), or even a city (e.g., New York City).

●  Groups: Focus groups can be identified by age, gender, social status, religion, ethnicity, etc.

Our example essay question contains two types of limiting words:

Compare the population growth of California to that of New York from 2010 to 2020.

Using the time range and places provided, we can focus our research on population growth.

As you can see, having some crossover between subject and limiting words in essay questions is common.

Proofreading and Editing

Correctly interpreting the essay question is the first step to writing a great essay. Once you’ve written a first draft, don’t forget to have it proofread. Our expert editors can help ensure your writing is clear, concise, and error-free. Try submitting a free trial document today to learn more.

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